How I’ve Dealt with My “Freshman” Year of Type 2 Diabetes
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Bill Santos was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2018. He likens adjusting to diabetes to living in a new country and reflects on the changes he made in his first “freshman” year of having type 2 diabetes. In early 2019, Bill became an advocate for people with diabetes by being outspoken on social media about the challenges people with diabetes face on a regular basis, sharing his own experiences and how the lives of people with diabetes can be improved by medical professionals. In August 2019, Bill started his blog, Next Wave T2D, where he continues to share his journey. Read his story below about how he adjusted to his first year with type 2 diabetes.
How I Dealt with My Diagnosis
My history is not that exceptional. I’m in my fifties and type 2 diabetes runs in my family. At the time of my diagnosis, I weighed more than 250 lbs. Within a few days of diagnosis, I made a conscious decision not to dwell on my past, but work to change my future.
Oddly enough, one of my first concerns was not about myself, but how to tell my friends and family. The first call I made was to my mother who also has type 2 diabetes. Looking back, I now see that her response to the news was unique. She skipped over the questions that many others would ask such as the “how?” and “why?”. Instead, she asked practical ones like “what kind of medications are you taking?”, “when is your next A1C test?” and “do you and your doctor have a good relationship?”
What was unique about this conversation was that the questions she asked had discrete answers. In contrast, many of the questions I received from family, friends and colleagues over the first few weeks required explanations rather than answers. such as “how did you get diabetes?”, “do you think I could get diabetes?” and “are you going to be ok?” Though these questions were well-intentioned, for a newly-diagnosed person with diabetes, this can be very frustrating. I was learning as fast as I could about diabetes and in those first few weeks, I really struggled with explaining this disease because I was still learning how to talk about it myself. Even one year later, I am still learning how to talk about diabetes.
How I Made the Commitment to Managing Diabetes
As I learned more about diabetes, I assessed my environment to find ways to increase activity and eat better. I work in a very large building, so I committed to walking after lunch and to take longer routes to meetings. Without much additional effort, I increased my average daily walking distance by over two miles! Before diagnosis, my traditional lunch was a salad with a chicken on white rice entrée. As a type 2 diabetic, I make a larger salad, eliminated the rice and put the chicken in the salad. In addition, I embraced technology to gather and log data such as daily activity, diet (calories, carbs) and blood glucose. To my surprise, many of the apps are pretty easy to use and only take a moment or two to update. I also created a spreadsheet that I update periodically. It allows me to look at trends over longer periods of time. This data is invaluable. Implementing these changes over the last year have yielded some amazingly dramatic results. My A1C has dropped in half and I have lost over sixty pounds. By taking stock in what I was doing well and making the changes to meet the challenge of diabetes, I feel that I have a better life and a brighter future.
There’s More to Diabetes than Just Diet and Exercise
Having completed what I consider my “freshman year” of living with diabetes, there is something I wanted to share with those who have been recently diagnosed. Although it has been my experience there’s a lot of information available about diabetes as a disease, the day-to-day experience of living with and managing diabetes is not well articulated.
For example, I learned pretty quickly that dry skin is a minor consequence of diabetes. However, my diabetes dry skin is nothing like I have ever experienced before, and nothing like how dry skin is portrayed in the media. For me, diabetes dry skin does not always show up on my calves, forearms, or shoulders. It can manifest itself on my knuckles, and if the skin breaks, there is no band-aid that will cover the scab. Also, diabetic dry skin also can cause little quarter-inch cuts on the tips of my fingers. Given their small size, the cuts are incredibly painful.
On a larger scale, most classes for newly diagnosed people with diabetes spend a lot of time talking about diet, meal planning and carb-counting. Let me emphasize that I believe it is critical to have that discussion immediately after diagnosis. What I suggest is to discuss the mental aspects of eating well as a diabetic. Specifically, a grocery store run can leave you mentally exhausted as you calculate the carbs in your shopping cart and how those carbs will be metered out over the next several days of meals.
This also includes the mental effects of looking over a menu in a restaurant, especially a place you haven’t eaten at before. Whereas everyone else at the table peruses the menu based mostly on taste preference, I have a pinball machine going off in my head because I’m estimating carbs, trying to avoid starches, reading every item in an entree salad to look for “hidden” carbs. Related to the restaurant experience is a slight mental backlash that I’ve felt from time to time such as looking around the table and thinking, “I used to be able to order food that way.” It is a tough mood to work through, and it would be helpful to have some coping mechanisms to deal with those feelings.
Diabetes is Like Learning to Live in Another Country
Managing diabetes feels like being dropped off on the other side of the planet. It has its own culture, language, rituals, economy and cuisine. Successful diabetes management requires the adoption of these social touchstones. Think of yourself living in another country; how successfully would you adapt to your new environment if you learned the language, ate the local food and participated in the local culture? Diabetes is much the same way. Learn how to eat right, exercise, take your meds and test your blood regularly. Choosing not to do these things can only lead to isolation and loneliness in a culture you don’t fully understand and the complications that follow.